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Exodus Homes helps addicts move forward

Rev. Susan Walker and her executive assistant, Catie Brown, discuss preparations for the potential arrival of Hurricane Irma at Exodus Homes on Tuesday. Brown came to Exodus Homes a year ago after serving 17 months in jail and prison for crimes related to her addiction to meth. Brown is currently in college studying Human and Community Services.

Staff Writer

A person can’t apply personally to enter Exodus Homes, it has to be part of a referral process either through the prison system, a social worker, Salvation Army, Veterans Administration or other organization. The individual has to be homeless, have successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program or, if they have been released from a correctional facility, been actively involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics, Anonymous or other treatment program or can be documented to be involved in some other program or treatment to detox and work toward abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Both male and female applicants are accepted. Sex offenders and violent offenders are not accepted. Normally, people younger than 27 are not accepted because Exodus, located in Hicory, has found that younger people are not ready to make a change. The average age of a resident in Exodus Homes is 40. They also have to be able-bodied and able to work. The requirements are very stringent to get into Exodus because the organization only has 63 beds.

Exodus Homes was co-founded by Rev. Reggie Longerier and Rev. Susan Smith Walker, pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church in Lincolnton, almost 20 years ago. It was intended to be an outreach program, a prison ministry and a housing program. At one time, people were afraid of the housing programs that Exodus planned to maintain in Hickory. The organization’s first housing complex was created from a formerly condemned apartment complex in an area that was originally so dangerous that police wouldn’t go there without back-up. Since Exodus has moved into that neighborhood, crime has dropped by approximately 35 percent, according to Walker.

Being approximately 75 percent self-supporting, Exodus Homes doesn’t receive any state funding or take insurance or Medicaid. Fifty percent of the funding comes from Exodus Works, a training program for residents of Exodus to work, where they learn to be disciplined, get along with others and obtain an employable skill. Exodus provides workers with labor such as lawn care and landscaping, residential and commercial moving, painting, car washing and detailing. The fees paid by customers go directly to Exodus to support the program and the customers are asked to tip the workers and they get to keep the tips.

Exodus also has corporate partners such as Vanguard Furniture, West Penn Hardwoods and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Furniture, where trainees are placed in manufacturing facilities. Exodus is paid for the work and the residents are given a training stipend. With these work programs, the residents, who may not have been able to get a job otherwise, are learning a new skill and getting paid some form of a salary. All the while they have room, board and transportation. Exodus provides transportation for the residents to and from work, to doctor’s appointments and court and probation officer hearings.

The ultimate goal is to get a real job in the community. The corporate partners can hire the residents after six months in the training program but the residents need to stay at Exodus for another six months before they can move out on their own. During those last six months and beyond if they choose to stay, the residents have to pay rent to live there. Residents can live in Exodus for as long as they want. The average length of stay is one year.

Walker said that it’s hard to judge the success rate of the program but, for the time that residents are at Exodus house, the success rate is almost 100 percent. Once they leave Exodus it’s hard to keep track of them simply because, for many of them, it was a very bad time in their lives that they want to leave behind.

“We can track people when they come here from prison,” she said. “The Department of Corrections says their recidivism study is two years. Depending upon who you ask, approximately 44 to 70 percent of people are back in two years. For us, if they come here straight from prison it’s approximately 23 percent.”

Lincoln County native Bobby Smith, who served multiple prison stints for drug charges, came to Exodus Homes almost six months ago with only the clothes on his back and his “bo-bos” — prison-issued tennis shoes. Today, he has a job in the distribution center at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams through Exodus and is on his way to returning to being a tax-paying, law-abiding, productive citizen.

Smith still can’t see his children because his ex-wife wants to wait until he has more time where he’s been clean from drugs.

“I’m working hard to get them back into my life and to find out who I am again,” he said. “Exodus is helping me to do that. My attitude has changed and I’m starting to feel emotionally again. When a person’s using they don’t feel nothing. What I love about this place is that it’s a spiritual-based program. I remember when I was 12 years old I got saved and a month ago I got saved again. I let God back into my life.”

In time, Smith plans to get his GED and then go to college to get a degree in social work that’ll enable him to help other addicts.

“Lincoln County doesn’t have anything like Exodus to help people,” he said. “You’ve got to go here or to Asheville or Gastonia and what I hear about Gastonia there’s drugs in their program, which is why I didn’t want to go there. I want to help addicts like me who are in my county.”

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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